In 2016 tiata fahodzi brought together 20 Stories High, Freedom Studios and Talawa Theatre Company to challenge the absence of people of colour running publicly-funded theatre organisations; the Artistic Director Leadership Programme (ADLP) has now reached its conclusion after a successful three years.
ADLP grew out of a vision for the future where key arts organisations and venues across the country look and feel more like the streets they sit on. Over the last three years, the partner companies behind ADLP have delivered a programme of talent development for future leaders, at all stages of their careers, and built a sustainable national network of theatre practitioners of colour. The aim was to equip them with the skills, confidence and connections to successfully apply for leadership positions and take their place as leaders across the country. Participants were encouraged to make the programme fit their own objectives, to build their skills to match up to their vision and achieve their ambitions.
In 2016, when the programme was designed, the theatre industry was not providing the right training or transition opportunities to enable practitioners of colour to go on to lead companies and so ADLP was intended to intervene with this. It was created with two strands: Leaders of Tomorrow and Trainee Artistic Director residencies – both aiming to lead the way in achieving diversity at the top tier of organisations.
Built on the basis that the most meaningful learning experience comes from embedding an individual in an organisation, the Trainee Artistic Director programme provided four paid, two-year, full-time residencies for experienced theatre directors. The stability of the residencies and employment gave a real opportunity to gain confidence and experience in a supportive environment which encouraged growth in authority and leadership.
As part of the Trainee Artistic Director programme, Nathan Powell joined 20 Stories High who, following the end of the scheme, have extended his contract to become their Associate Director. He commented on the programme: “It has been an excellent opportunity, and I have a clearer understanding of who I am as a leader and what I want my impact to be in this field of work. I have been exposed to new ways of thinking and gained a much clearer understanding of this industry and how to achieve what I hope to in it. It was an excellent networking opportunity and has led to me being in positions and gaining opportunities that would have maybe not come about if I wasn’t a part of this programme.”
Leaders of Tomorrow was a bespoke leadership programme for practitioners of colour who wanted to become sector leaders of theatre companies and buildings. It brought together 24 of the most exciting theatre-makers, administrators, producers, designers and actors from across the country to support their professional growth. Sessions run by Independent Theatre Council provided practical step-by-step advice through tasks such as creating business plans and leadership techniques. Sessions were also run by members of the programme to share their own expertise with each other. The scheme not only supported the development of leadership skills, but the participants also witnessed the improvement of the skills in their peers. It created a national network of future leaders of colour.
Daniel Kok was named as one of the Leaders of Tomorrow in 2017; this year alone he has taken up a new role as International Producer at the Royal Court Theatre, joined the board of Forced Entertainment and been named as one of the GENERATE participants building a new international network of producers. He said: “The support, advice and encouragement given to me has truly been part of my personal journey over the past two years. The confidence that it has given me has made me more ambitious in my ideas and helped me view and place myself differently in this sector.”
The face of leadership in leading institutions is beginning to look different with appointments such as Lynette Linton, Doreen Foster and Roy Alexander Weise. Appointments like these demonstrate the encouraging shift in theatre – ADLP has been part of that.
ADLP has been a critical part of the conversation needed in order for change to take place. There are now 28 leaders with a network of peers to give and receive support from, develop with, and who will ultimately shape the future of the industry as they move into leadership positions. While it is the end of ADLP, the journey continues, participants now sit on company boards, have founded festivals and work in the UK’s leading theatrical institutions. They were the Leaders of Tomorrow and they remain the ones to watch.
Natalie Ibu, Artistic Director of tiata fahodzi, commented: “The Artistic Director Leadership Programme was a galvanising action, turning lip service, think pieces and panel discussions into an intervention led by four small scale companies where diversity, representation and inclusion sit at the heart of our missions. On a personal level, ADLP was the programme I wished was around when I was an ambitious young artist with a call to lead but with no access; it’s also the programme I need to exist – as the leader of one of a handful of black led companies – to fuel, protect and challenge the ecology and sector that I love but who continues to not see people who look like me. The aim of the programme was ultimately to mitigate the (consciously or subconsciously) presumed risk associated with being a leader of colour by taking up space in buildings, expanding networks, sharing the language of leadership and encouraging participants to think bigger and bolder. What it did was more powerful than we could have imagined – a new club brought together by ADLP but nurtured by each participant, crafted by their care for each other and sustained by their passion to see change. This club – unlike the old (white) boys club – isn’t based on who you know but we should absolutely know them if we want a sector that thrives.
The final evaluation of the ADLP programme written by Lee Corner in collaboration with Natalie Ibu and Sue Emmas (Artistic Director, Regional Theatre Young Director Scheme) is now available to download from adleadership.co.uk.